There’s a growing desire to help Africa to become connected to the world through high-speed internet, and leading the change is Isabel dos Santos. She’s a name many in the area know well, having helped to build Unitel into the massive mobile provider it is today.
From a young age, she has felt a responsibility in helping the country to expand its access and connectivity. She has long worked to build an empire of businesses to support the development of infrastructure in the country to allow for fast internet access to become available.
Why Is There a Need for 5G?
During AfricaCom 2019, she made it clear that an investment in 5G is incredibly valuable. In order for there to be a significant expansion of connectivity in the region, there must be an investment made in infrastructure to allow it. She notes, “I would like to see in the energy sector the same thing that happened in the telecommunications sector: a big investment from the private sector. Today we are 1.2 billion people in Africa, by 2050 we will be 2.4 billion – more than in China. The investment required in infrastructure is huge.”
When dos Santos took over at Unitel and built it from the ground up, she relied heavily on financial support to help build the necessary infrastructure to make this communications network possible. Today, the company, which is the largest mobile operator in Angola, has put more than $2.2 billion (US dollars) into fiber optic cable frustration. All of this was done through private investment. Because of the need for additional funding from the private sector to build up the technology infrastructure needed for 5G’s expansion, she’s again calling on private companies and organizations in the region to support the investment.
She says, “Today we have 14,000 km of optical fibre, we promote the expansion of the internet nationwide with one of the most modern telecommunications networks in Africa. It is important that companies and governments work together. If African governments create business models, it will stimulate positive investment environments.”
Huawei Ready to Launch
There’s much work to do, according to dos Santos, but she may have gotten some help from a new accountant from mobile data network operator rain and Huawei. According to recent reports, rain has launched a new intelligent 5G transport network in the region. They will partner with Huawei to make it possible. This is perhaps the most significant of all advancements on the 5G front.
The transport network is critical. It works as a type of neural network that helps to connect larger, core networks to various services. In short, it’s going to help bring ultra-high-speed broadband services into the region.
Huawei holds many of the same beliefs of dos Santos, noting the importance for Africa to stake its claim on 5G to gain connectivity to the world around it. Removing the currently present digital divide present in the region would help to provide Africa compete in a world dominated by 5G technology and connectivity.
To achieve that, Huawei and rain will work together to launch new solutions that aim to create an ultra-broadband network and intelligent connectivity in the region. The companies noted that they will use NetEngine 8000 M series intelligent metro routers as a first step toward this development and expansion. With this particular deployment, they will be able to provide high-density 10GE-to-Site access as well as 100GE uplink. Once this is in place, it will create opportunities for rapid traffic growth throughout the region as more and more companies, governments, and people come online. In addition, they will work to launch Huawei Network Cloud Engine. This allows for the enablement of service automation and intelligent O&M within the network.
Exploring a New World
Throughout her lifetime, dos Santos has played a role in helping to foster change and to grow various companies, including Zap and Unitel, into the powerhouses they are today. When asked about what she would like to see in two to three years from now, what she says remains the same – the growth of the African economy.
In an interview with allAfrica, Dos Santos states, “I’d love to tell you the story of economic recovery in Angola. But unfortunately, I feel that the next three years are going to be extremely tough for all Angolan businesses. I think that will also have a negative impact on the political scene. Undoubtedly there will be political issues very much driven by the level of unemployment – which is rising – and purchasing power which has dropped to a third because of currency devaluation was 300% in the last 24 months.”
It is also important, she notes, for there to be changes occurring rapidly. A key problem, she states, is that there is no access to funding from the government for the massive scale of projects that has to happen in order for this to occur. Since her father left office as president, the government and politics, in general, has changed significantly.
She says, “Public expenditure has been cut because it has gone from 60% to 90%, so these are the things that create an extremely difficult environment. We’re going to have to adjust as businesses and have plans to survive. We’re going to have to be inventive. Obviously, we’re going to have to look for other markets and use our know-how and the knowledge we have today to enter African markets or markets further afield.”
Entrepreneurship in Africa is becoming more and more vibrant. Today, African entrepreneurs are recognized around the world and have become a model to follow. I believe that success creates success and many more Africans will end up joining this great family. pic.twitter.com/IXUXPKLGSI
– Isabel Dos Santos (@isabelaangola) December 9, 2019
What Does the Ideal Future Hold to Allow This Type of Growth and Change?
There are many facets to the change that dos Santos hopes to see. Yet, at the heart of it is building a way for people and companies to gain access to what they need to thrive. During her interview at AfricaCom 2019, she recognized the value of a large e-commerce platform operating in the region.
When such an e-commerce platform becomes available, significant changes will occur without limitation. She says, “Africa has to build a big e-commerce platform, which will bring great opportunities. There are fewer barriers, costs go down, and we will be able to communicate our product better and to a much larger audience.”
Like much of the world around her, dos Santos believes that it will be a digital economy that will help to usher must-needed change into Africa. Digital companies will help to shape not just the country as a whole but also will help to foster change, improvement, and growth within small neighborhoods throughout the region, providing people from all walks of life with more of the support and guidance they need.
In order for any of this to occur, there are several key aspects dos Santos says must happen first. The development of infrastructure is critical. Many areas have not had any type of development to allow for 5G to be connected. This takes time, but it also takes a significant amount of financial investment. She also notes that there is a need to develop new markets that would benefit from having a digital economy. In a region that needs the financial stimulus that can come from this type of change, these markets could usher in a significant change.
Finally, she notes, there is a need for financial services to support this type of growth and development. As noted, she continues to state the importance of bringing in private investors to support the work that the government isn’t able to complete at a rapid scale on its own.
Expanding Her Role
There is little doubt that Isabel dos Santos will continue to play an incredible role in the development of the region’s connectivity. Once this infrastructure is in place, it will bring online millions of people – customers and providers – who want to connect within the region but also on a global scale.